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VENICE — “Well, now you can say Hermès financed the restoration of a copy,” Patrick Thomas, chief executive officer of Hermès International, joked Monday at the unveiling of the company’s first wholly owned boutique here.

However, the copy Thomas referred to was not of a counterfeit Kelly bag, but of a legitimate replica of the city’s four bronze horses, symbols of Venice’s power and wealth, which Hermès restored over the past four months in support of France’s Committee to Save Venice. The replicas are positioned on the elaborate facade of the Basilica in Piazza San Marco, the city’s main square, while the original 12th-century quadriga from Istanbul were moved inside the church in 1982 since they could no longer withstand the outside pollution. Thomas declined to reveal the cost of the restoration.

A group of 60 Hermès family members flew to Venice to celebrate both the end of the restoration and the opening of the boutique, inviting global press and about 700 guests to a dinner at the city’s Palazzo Ducale to mark the events.

“The family does attend boutique openings as much as possible, but Venice really holds a symbolic value for us,” said Rena Dumas, who designed the new boutique in the city’s busy Salizada San Moisè. In addition to the iconic horse and carriage of the Hermès logo, there are references to Venice and its horses, its historic regattas and carnivals throughout the company’s history — including the 1957 handbag named Venise, the 1961 window display to launch the Calèche scent inspired by the city’s carnival and the 1970 Venise silk scarf.

This year, Hermès reedited a 2001 scarf dedicated to Venice, which will be available in 100 units and only at the new boutique, retailing at 250 euros, or $312.75. With its four horses as the centerpiece of a black, bright blue and gold frame, surrounded by a mosaic, gondolas and other symbols of the city, the scarf, Hermès à Venise, features 35 different colors in total, according to Pascale Mussard, head of design for leather goods, jewelry and accessories. “We’ve already sold most of them,” said Francesca di Carrobio, chief executive of Hermès Italia.

In moving the boutique from the original Piazza San Marco location, the floor area has doubled to 1,944 square feet. Perfumes, scarves and other accessories are available on the ground floor, while the saddlery division, leather goods, jewelry, watches, homeware and the men’s and women’s ready-to-wear collections are on the upper level.

This story first appeared in the October 19, 2006 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“We wanted a homey feeling — it’s like a jewel box,” said Thomas, adding each new boutique is a “new generation” store. “We’ve recently opened boutiques in Athens, Copenhagen and Amsterdam and each has a new concept, but they must always fit and reflect the architectural structure of the city they are in,” he said.

Hermès counts 21 boutiques in Italy, a total of 43 directly owned boutiques and 249 stores in the world. A store in Seoul is scheduled to open early next month.

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